Steelers Vs. Falcons Week 13 Recap: With PFF Total Snaps & Grades

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to able to come away with another win (5-7 now), for their first winning streak of the season thanks to another solid team effort in all three phases overall. The defense played particularly well in the first half holding Atlanta to 0-4 on third down, the offensive line playing extremely well, and the running game encouragingly showing out again (154 yards) which topped the Falcons attack along with another good outing for quarterback Kenny Pickett particularly taking care of the football, all huge factors as the special teams and defense made key plays late to hold on to the 19-16 victory. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.

Let’s start with the offense:

PFF’s highest graded player was tight end Connor Heyward (91.6), who caught Pittsburgh’s lone passing touchdown along with quality run blocking overall on his 14 snaps. Tight end Pat Freiermuth also came in with a grade above 90 (91.1), leading the team in receiving yards highlighted by a fantastic short catch and tough YAC for the teams longest play of 57 yards on the season. Running back Najee Harris also deservingly had a great grade (86.6) with several where he created and/or showed his strength, averaging a season best 5.1 yards per carry which is so encouraging after seeing the run game struggle for so long. Two other players had +70 grades, starting with fellow running back Benny Snell (80.4) who also fared well with a couple chain moving runs and an average of four yards per carry. Pickett was the other after a drop off (70.1), going 16/28 which was actually his lowest completion rate of the year (57.1), pushing the ball down the field more than last game and, rounding out a clean performance with a touchdown and no interceptions or sacks.

The only player with a below 50 grade this week was wide receiver Steven Sims (45.7), who rushed three times for 19 yards (6.3 average), but dinged in the receiving department on offense with no catches on his two targets. Largely agree with the grades, with the offensive line having great moments yet inconsistent, and personally thought center Mason Cole could have been a bit higher.

Pittsburgh’s offense came on first, starting with Harris on the ground with good collective blocking, including tackle Chukwuma Okorafor getting to the second level and tight ends Zach Gentry and Freiermuth blocks on the edge on the successful six-yard gain. On second and four Harris got another handoff, this one limited with guard Kevin Dotson beat and allowing his man to meet Harris at the line of scrimmage, fighting through the tackle for the positive gain of three. Third and a short one now, and the Steelers stayed on the ground, handing to fullback Derek Watt from a tight end alignment for a healthy four yards on the conversion.

The following first down was Pickett’s first drop back, targeting wide receiver Diontae Johnson who was open on the curl and ran backward as he tried to get outside, but unlike many frustrating plays this season made a great cut to work back inside and lunge forward for the seven-yard gain. On second and three, Pickett play actioned and looked downfield with dual go routes from Johnson and wide receiver George Pickens, but was hit as he threw due to Freiermuth singled up on the edge rusher, pushed back easily and incomplete. Third and three now, and Pickett did a good job going through his progressions despite Cole allowing his man to get around him, able to find Freiermuth on the out route with an accurate throw and YAC for 10 yards and the conversion.

Steelers tackle Dan Moore was then penalized for a false start, setting up first and 15. Pickett was able to seemingly connect with Sims on a good pass on the vertical route for an explosive 21-yard gain here, but Atlanta challenged, and it’s overturned as an incomplete pass. On second and 15, Pickett takes the wide-open dump off pass to running back Jaylen Warren over the middle, getting a bit of YAC on the seven-yard gain. Third and eight now, and Pickett enjoys another clean pocket and throws a dart to Freiermuth on the stick route, making the catch between two defenders for the conversion and gain of nine.

Encouragingly moving the ball well early, and this first down was back to Harris on the ground with decent blocks (Dotson, Moore) along with three tight ends including Connor Heyward on the left side, though Gentry allowed the linebacker off the good initial effort on the second level to get in on the tackle of the gain of four. On second and six, Harris provided a five-yard run this time, showing right and good vision to quickly cutback to the left to a hole between Cole (washed his man) and Okorafor, but James Daniels not landing a block allowed two defenders to converge, and amazingly ducks to break loose, churning and earning every yard. Third and a short one now, and this time it’s Pickett on the sneak getting in between Cole and Daniels for two yards and fourth straight conversion to start the game!

Atlanta got backfield penetration here, making Pickett’s read-option difficult, electing to keep it and dropped for a loss of five by the blitzing cornerback who came free off the edge. On second and 15, both tackles were pushed back on the drop back where Moore allowed the hit on Pickett’s target Pickens, with the pass sailing high over his head and incomplete, setting up third and a mile. Dotson was late to pick up the edge rusher on the twist inside, making his presence felt on Pickett’s low throw to Freiermuth on the in route from a wide alignment, falling incomplete and the long opening drive stalls just outside the red zone. They do come away with the field goal though for an early 3-0 lead.

The offense retuned at 3:57 in the first quarter still up by three, and Pickett play action rolls to the right, looking downfield but doesn’t like his options and scrambles behind a good Connor Heyward block for a nine-yard gain. On second and one, Pickett hands this one to Harris who gets outside a good block from Moore, is met by the safety due to Pickens not landing a block, fiercely stiff arming him to the ground along with keeping his balance on his second effort to trip Harris up, then churning threw three defenders and Johnson (who gave up on the play) on the awesome five-yard effort.

This set up first down, going play action where Cole was pushed back but able to get his man to the ground just before he could get to Pickett, cuing the scramble drill and able to find Derek Watt working back to him on the sideline for the three-yard catch. On second and seven, it’s shotgun with three wide receivers to the left, and Sims motions from the slot to receive the jet sweep, with ample room to the empty side and the safety carrying Gentry’s over route, and Warren out in front landing a good block on the ten yard run, where cornerback AJ Terrell impressively worked across the field to tackle him out of bounds or it likely would have gone for a lot more.

Another first down, and Snell gets his first carry with good blocks from Dotson and Daniels but lacking elsewhere on the gain of four. On second and six, Johnson ran a great out route getting ample separation with the corner playing off, making the catch with YAC, and lowering his shoulder as he goes out of bounds on the gain of nine, encouraging to see after several weeks of running backward and away from defenders/contact. Great collective run blocking on the following first down run, particularly from Cole and Dotson on a double team and the latter combo blocking to the linebacker giving Snell room to take advantage on the gain of six to close the first quarter.

Opening the second quarter on second and seven it’s another impressive run here, this one on a great cut to bounce it outside with the middle clogged up, able to get outside a Pickens shoulder block with Johnson out in front as well, tripping on his cut to work to the sideline limiting the end of the run, but still a very nice gain of 13.

Loving the long drives from the offense early, and Harris gets the call again, but the run is stopped for a loss of one with Daniels, Cole, and Gentry allowing the convergence to ensure the tackle. On second and 11, Atlanta brought a blitz with the linebacker getting around Daniels and Okorafor on the edge, seemingly effecting a good read but overthrown ball to Freiermuth who beat Terrell up the seam, a crucial miss near the end zone that may have scored. Instead, third and a long 11 now, and the o-line picks up another blitz well allowing Pickett time to find Johnson who ran a great in route to get wide-open but an ugly drop that would have likely set up a fresh set of downs in the red zone. Instead, a second long drive stalls just outside the red area, settling for another field goal to go up six.

The offense returned at 9:15 in the second quarter with the lead cut to three, and Pickett surveys behind good collective pass pro, then makes a poor decision and overthrow to Johnson deep on the go ball into double coverage, but the latter making a good play to bat it away on the would-be interception that falls incomplete. On second and ten, Cole and Daniels allowed penetration on their double team block on the give to Harris, who was able to cut left behind good blocks from Moore, Dotson, a pulling block from wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, and Gentry for a successful six-yard pickup. Third and a manageable four now, and Pickett enjoys another clean pocket for a quality throw to Freiermuth who turned on his short route then backpedals out for the strong catch, shedding the immediate hit by Terrell at the catch point, along with stiff arming/eluding another by the safety to get up the sideline and churning to the end for tremendous YAC for the double explosive 57-yard gain! What an effort on the longest play of the year.

This set up first and ten from the red zone, and another untimely error that has happened far too often this season rears its head on a false start penalty from Dotson, ugh. The following first and 15, Connor Heyward ran a great route from his tight end alignment in the empty set, selling the outside extremely well then working back inside on the angle route to get wide-open in the back of the end zone for the 17-yard touchdown! Refreshing to see Pittsburgh punch it in from the red zone, lead’s up to ten now.

With 5:05 left in the half, the offense returned and opened with a play action rollout where Derek what was beat but recovered on his block, allowing time for Pickett and the play to develop, with a great throw and deep comeback route, getting nice separation for the explosive 20-yard catch (second for Pittsburgh).

The following first down was a Sims jet sweep, with good blocks out in front, particularly Connor Heyward and Warren, getting between them and falling forward for the successful gain of six. On second and four, Okorafor was late to pick up the linebacker in the designed run lane, forcing Warren to cut back on the run, getting behind a good push from Cole along with Dotson, churning the first tackler for the chain moving five-yard gain.

First down again, and the linebacker times the snap well to get a push on Daniels, who was pushed back initially and recovered well on the spin move and pancaked his man to the ground on the play action drop back where Pickett scrambled and was directed out of bounds by the defender limiting the gain of five. On second and five, Atlanta brought a six-man blitz against Pittsburgh’s empty set, with an ideal play call lined up to Harris on the wide out screen, one-on-one against the corner and able to stiff-arm to get the necessary YAC on the chain moving six-yard catch.

Third first down of the drive at the two-minute warning, and Sims stays busy with his third run of the game, this one on a handoff to Harris then gets the pitch on the end around where Moore sealed the edge on the line, and while I appreciate the effort from Pickett who was out in front blocking, but the defender shed easy to tackle the gain of three. On second and seven            following Atlanta’s first timeout, Pickett play actions and looks downfield, then progresses to Freiermuth who was open short over the middle, needing to unleash that throw in my opinion but instead is a bit antsy with Okorafor pushed back, spinning on the scramble to the left where Harris held his pass block just enough for some time before getting knocked to the ground, then just cutting his losses and throwing it away with the defensive back closing in. Third and seven now, and Pickett is even antsier bailing a fairly clean pocket including Okorafor’s man slipping, who was then able to pursue and get the quarterback hit on the nice throw and grab along the sideline, but unfortunately a penalty on Sims for stepping out of bounds prior to securing the impressive catch. Limited to another field goal, the third of the half but encouragingly points on every drive thus far for the 10-point lead.

With 29 seconds left in the half at their own 14-yard line, Pittsburgh stays conservative with the 10-point lead and closes the half with a Harris run of four yards. Encouragingly winning time of possession, the run game battle, and third down in a good first half.

Back with 12:22 in the third quarter at their own 10-yard line and the scoreboard the same, and it’s Harris on the ground to start, with a great collective push including the hole between a Dotson seal and pulling cut block from Connor Heyward, then getting behind Moore but he and Johnson allowed their men to tackle the six-yard gain, and also noted Daniels getting a pancake on the other side. On second and four it was Harris again, and this time Daniels is pushed back forcing the cutback with nice vision to get around a good Okorafor block, then met by an unblocked linebacker but able to churn behind a decent Freiermuth block to get just enough for the first down.

The drive continued with Pickett surveying on a shotgun drop back, then is forced to step up with Dotson beat bad to the outside, needing to get rid of it with Harris a seemingly open option on the dump off, instead scrambling to the sideline for another five yard gain out of bounds. On second and five, Snell got his turn as they returned to the ground, with good line blocking, but Gentry losing his block and forcing the cut outside where Terrell was clean and waiting, along with Freiermuth losing his block late allowing the combined tackle of four yards. Third and a short one now, and Snell was able to elude the Jarrett tackle, who beat Okorafor for the opportunity behind the line, instead churning behind Trent Scott, the extra lineman on the play for the two yard and first down run. Loving the run heavy success.

Mixing it up here through the air on first down, and Pickett has a fair pocket (Okorafor and Cole pushed back a bit) but the target to Johnson is low, hitting the ground as he attempted to go down and get it on the comeback route at the sticks. On second and ten, the two were able to connect this time, finding him on the short target over the middle on a drag despite the blindside quarterback hit from the free blitzing cornerback, with crazy separation against off coverage for healthy YAC on the chain moving 14-yard catch.

Encouragingly another matching chunk gain here, this one a Harris run with stellar collective blocking, getting between Okorafor and Moore, then around a double team block from Cole and Daniels, a second hole between Dotson and Gentry who peeled off their combo block to work back excellently to the linebacker, then a good cut to make a guy miss before he is taken down hard. The following Harris run had a good initial hole thanks to Dotson, Moore, and Freiermuth blocks, but corralled quickly by two second level defenders who came free to tackle the two-yard pickup. On second and eight Pickett looks deep left for Pickens, then to Johnson on the other side, then slides right as he finds Snell on his third read, open on the angle route for the catch and stiff arming the safety to pick up 11 and the first. Atlanta is also penalized for the horse collar tackle, a 14-yard penalty tacked on to the end of the run for 25-yards of explosive yardage.

This set Pittsburgh up in the red zone, but infuriatingly come right back with a penalty of their own on another untimely red zone error, this one a false start on Johnson setting up first and 15. Snell got the handoff here, but not much room with Cole being pushed to the ball, limiting his cutting opportunities for only two yards. On second and 13, Pickett takes a shot to Johnson on the go ball to the end zone, a likely touchdown if it’s laid out, but underthrown and broken up, keeping Johnson unfathomably touchdown-less on the season still on the unfortunate miss. Then the unthinkable on third and 13, the snap is a tick too late and it’s a second quick red zone penalty on the delay of game. Barf. Third and 18 now, and it’s a short screen to Warren where Dotson was blocked to the ground, impeding Daniels path on his pull and unable to get the block on Jarrett, who chased him to the sideline where the safety shot down to tackle the seven-yard gain that was well short. Red zone penalties scorched another long drive, settling for another field goal that extends the lead to 13.

On first down with 43 seconds left in the third quarter and a six-point lead, Pickett slides right with Daniels blocking his man to the ground and completed to Pickens on the comeback, quickly stepping out of bounds for only two yards, his only catch on two targets in a frustratingly quiet game for him. On second and eight, Olszewski got the jet sweep, but Gentry pushed back into the running lane and allowing his man to work off the block and combine for the no gain tackle to end the third quarter.

Third and eight to start the fourth quarter, and Atlanta brings the twisting rush, and Cole not coming off the double team block to pick it up forcing the pressure, forcing the scramble to the right and getting it short to Johnson on the move, originally called a catch and fumble with Terrell recovering, and the offense is extremely lucky the play was overturned as an incompletion upon review, whew. Three and out punt here.

The Steelers lead is cut to three with 5:27 left in the game, surprisingly starting with a drop back from an empty set and Pickett gets the pass out quick to Gentry on the stop route with a bit of churning YAC on the eight-yard gain. On second and two, Harris got the handoff and despite losing his footing was able to pick up three yards for the first down to keep the drive and clock moving. The following first down was Harris on the ground again, and despite Moore allowing the edge rusher free reign into the backfield along with Cole pushed back, split the defenders to avoid a loss and showcased another stiff arm on the linebacker at the next level for the churning and impressive seven-yard gain, impressive game. On second and three, Snell came on and cut inside of Daniels who lost his block on the outside, finding space thanks to Dotson clear out and getting behind a good push from Moore and Gentry to work past the sticks on the gain of six. Another first down here, and the call is a jet sweep to Olszewski on the jet sweep (not my favorite call) with Derek Watt and Freiermuth out in front, with the former getting outside his man on the block but the latter not landing his and allowing his man to get in on the tackle for a two-yard gain.

Second and eight at the two-minute warning, and Pickett took the shotgun snap and threw quickly to Johnson who was interestingly given plenty of cushion for the easy catch, continuing inside for the necessary YAC to pick up the first down, cuing the Falcons first timeout. Back to the run game on first down, able to gain five yards thanks to a solid wall from Daniels and Okorafor, along with good initial blocks from all three tight ends sans Heyward falling off his to the ground late, and Harris is able to overcome with an impressive cutback plus a spin for another yard or two. Atlanta takes timeout #2. On second and five, Harris is stopped for no gain with the blitzing linebacker coming in free to make the tackle, and the Falcons take their last timeout at 1:40. Big third and five now, and Pickett play actions and rolls left on the designed quarterback run, and with three defenders in pursuit slides down for a loss of one to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving. Weird play call in my opinion, leading to a punt following a delay of game penalty to gain more room, leaving the door open for Atlanta’s offense.

The Steelers special teams and defense came up clutch in the end, allowing Pickett to kneel for the final play and great win!

Now for the defense:

PFF’s highest graded player was as expected with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (92), highlighted by his game sealing interception in his solid game in coverage, along with the team lead of seven tackles including two stops, particularly enjoying a tackle for loss of four on a run play. Three other players had +70 grades, starting with linebacker Robert Spillane (74.3) highlighted by a quarterback hit along with a run stop on his lone tackle on 13 snaps. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward ranked third in the grades this week (72.3), and personally though he should have been higher with his four pressures (only player on the team with multiple) highlighted by his quarterback hit on the game sealing interception, also leading the defense with three stops on his four tackles along with a pass defensed. Cornerback Arthur Maulet (72.2) was a notch below on his six snaps, targeted once and playing well in coverage on an end zone target late in the game that would have given Atlanta the lead.

Several below 50 grades this week, starting with linebacker Devin Bush (45.6), particularly struggling in run defense. Cornerback Cameron Sutton is next (42.3), and thought his grade was too low, dinged for a missed tackle and targeted a whopping seven times allowing four catches, but a long of only 12 and no touchdowns along with two stops on four tackles and a pass defensed. Safety Terrell Edmunds (38.3) had four tackles and a stop, but allowed two catches of 15+ yards on three targets along with some missed opportunity in the run game. Three defensive linemen bottom the grades this week, starting with a grade I was expecting to be higher in Larry Ogunjobi (33.3), who had four tackles including two stops, and though PFF did not credit hit with any pressures, was getting a good push on multiple occasions in my notes. The other two had below 30 grades: Tyson Alualu (29.2) and Montravius Adams (29.1), with both dinged in run defense and the latter having a penalty as well. Quiet game from the edge rushers, with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith credited with only one pressure each, along with both having a missed tackle.

Atlanta’s offense opened with a play action pass, where Ogunjobi worked through a double team, Heyward got free up the middle, and Highsmith all got near quarterback Marcus Mariota as he got the pass off to rookie wide receiver Drake London on the out route past the sticks, making the catch against Sutton who got him out of bounds quickly on the gain of 11. The following first down was another pass, a quick one to wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus who went in motion and caught the quick target in the flat, and good job by Bush to work around the vertical route to quickly tackle the three yard gain out of bounds. On second and seven the Falcons handed off for the first time, and Highsmith shot into the backfield but missed the tackle for loss on Cordarrelle Patterson, allowing him to bounce outside with linebacker Myles Jack blocked, then stiff-armed Sutton’s low tackle attempt as Fitzpatrick ran him out of bounds, but a seven-yard chain moving gain.

The following first down was back to the air, and good interior push particularly from Ogunjobi along with fellow defensive lineman Chris Wormley, getting near Mariota on his throw to London, and good coverage and pass breakup by Sutton on the in route at the sticks. On second and ten, Atlanta was called for a hold on the running play, setting up second and 15. Mariota went play action here and with a lack of pass rush targeted the deep in route, thankfully overthrowing the open receiver and incomplete with cornerback Levi Wallace in coverage. Atlanta was penalized once again on third and long, this one a false start that set up third and 20. Watt beat the double team here, cuing a step up from Mariota and Pittsburgh’s off coverage given the situation encouraged the short pass that gained 12 yards, where Fitzpatrick missed the angle but Sutton was there to tackle him well short. Steelers benefit from penalties, lead still at three.

The defense returned at 13:27 in the second quarter with a six point lead, and it’s a handoff to Tyler Allgeier who hit a huge hole with Ogunjobi washed thoroughly on a double team, Jack unable to get off the block, Watt setting the wide edge but late to get off the blocker along with Edmunds unable to as well on the second level with each missing diving efforts, and Fitzpatrick finally getting the tackle but an explosive 20-yard gain to the right side. This was a concern in my pregame stats outlook, ouch. Atlanta said why not try again, this time from the diamond formation, and better job here with Heyward setting the edge, and Ogunjobi with late penetration along with Alualu combining to tackle the three-yard gain. On second and seven, Highsmith and Heyward got a good push on their pass rush, but Mariota was able to get it off to tight end Parker Hesse, a miscommunication with Edmunds and Wallace both covering a deeper tight end route that seemed to be on the latter, allowing YAC on the 16-yard gain (big play sans tight end Kyle Pitts) where Jack and Fitzpatrick combined for the tackle.

Another chunk on the following first down, this one a 13-yard pass to London from the slot, getting wide-open behind Bush who was sucked forward by the play fake and Edmunds releasing on the initial coverage to a zone drop, for the easy pitch and catch on the slant and YAC with safety Damontae Kazee coming up to make the tackle. Ogunjobi had enough on the following first down, providing a monster push on the center and tackle for a big loss of three on the Patterson run, great play along with Watt winning around the edge and nearly tripping him up. On second and 13, Sutton came on the blitz off the edge but was picked up by the running back following Mariota’s fake to him, then unloading an overthrow to London and Wallace gets a hand on it but unable to corral a near interception, along with Fitzpatrick attempting to make a play on it but instead the two collide and the former has to leave the game clearly favoring his right hand. Unfortunate missed turnover opportunity. Third and a long 13 though, and the pass rush dominated here, with Heyward providing a grown man push and getting to Mariota for the sack! Important to note Highsmith won inside on the twist and Watt was also in the vicinity on the big third down play that clamped down to limit the drive to a field goal.

Returning at 7:06 in the second quarter with a ten-point lead now, and it’s unfortunately another chunk play let up on a play action bomb to London, stacking Wallace down the sideline despite his illegal contact penalty that Atlanta declined due to the huge 37-yard gain where he pushed him out of bounds on his first play back from injury. The following first down was much more enjoyable, where Fitzpatrick sniffed out the run immediately, twisting inside of Watt off his tight cushion on the wide receiver, with jet fuel acceleration and coming in clean to blow up the Patterson run for a loss of four. On second and 14, and great pass rush by Adams to split the double team and force Mariota to step up, along with Wormley getting into the backfield but was eluded, then Heyward missed a sack opportunity leading to the scramble drill, and Sutton getting the pass break up on the deep underthrow toward the end zone. Third and 14 now, and Mariota unleashes it quick to the open stop route, stopped well short of the chains by Fitzpatrick along with Spillane (though not credited) on the gain of nine. Good job tightening up after the explosive play, Falcons get another field goal, and the lead’s seven now.

With a ten-point lead now and 1:29 until halftime, it’s defend the pass time. The first down throw went short to London, with a bit of YAC on the gain of 11 where cornerback James Pierre came up to make the tackle in bounds. Similar result on the following first down, this one to Zaccheaus for ten yards just before Watt’s quality push could get there, and Sutton reading the play well but missing the tackle and Bush making the play and the clocks still running. Highsmith and Watt each got a good edge rush on this first down, where Mariota stepped up and targeted Zaccheaus on the deep post, thankfully overthrown and incomplete. Pittsburgh then brought a six-man blitz on second and ten with Edmunds getting good interior push, and another overthrow sails over London’s head out of bounds. Big third and ten now, the Steelers only brings three on the rush, including Sutton off the edge forcing him to throw on the move on the deep over the middle target to Zacchaeus into triple coverage, and Fitzpatrick is there to break it up for the incompletion, and though the poor decision isn’t a takeaway, another big third down stop (Atlanta 0/4 thus far) that keeps them off the scoreboard before halftime.

The defense returned to open the second half, and Atlanta’s offense came back from the break looking to run, giving to Patterson with Watt coming free but committing to Mariota, and Edmunds did a great jump darting in the backfield and eluding the fullback to chase him down off the cutback (that faked out Ogunjobi and Adams) and make the tackle but a two-yard gain. On second and eight, it’s a toss to the left with running back Caleb Huntley, and Highsmith got and good push to set the edge and force the cutback at the line of scrimmage, along with Heyward encouragingly doing enough to persuade another one considering the edge was open (Sutton pancaked and Bush sealed), and Ogunjobi working down the line well to tackle the six-yard gain. Third and two now, and Mariota finds space for the conversion on the quarterback sneak of three yards where Bush got the tackle.

The drive continued with another Huntley toss, where Highsmith set the edge once again and Wormley utilized the long arm to work to the ball and tackle the four-yard gain. On second and six, it’s play action with Watt getting a good rush but shipped by the back, and Bush comes in free to get the quarterback hit that clearly effected Mariota’s inaccurate target to Zacchaeus deep down the middle, sailing past everyone on the incompletion. Third and six now, and Atlanta can’t get the snap off on the delay of game, setting up a third and long 11. Pittsburgh brings the blitz here, with linebacker Robert Spillane and Arthur Maulet getting near Mariota on his release on another deep target, thankfully another overthrow considering London stacked Sutton and was wide-open on the go ball that otherwise could have been a house call. Instead, 0-5 on third down as the defense stands tall once again.

On the next drive at 4:46 in the third quarter and the lead at 13 now, Mariota finally keeps on a read option where Watt committed hard and demolished Patterson, allowing the edge with Wallace and Edmunds combining to tackle the nine-yard gain. On second and one, Patterson did get the handoff and hitting the hole between Highsmith and Alualu along with a jump past Wormley who was tripped up by the tight end who fell, then tackled by Ogunjobi on the seven-yard chain mover with Bush also there on the play.

Back to Patterson on the ground on the following first down, with Bush coming downhill and taking on the lead block from the fullback aggressively, allowing the cutback with Ogunjobi, Watt, and Fitzpatrick sealed for a huge lane where Edmunds and Wallace finally combined for the tackle but an 11-yard gain. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it, with Atlanta giving it to Patterson yet again, finding another big lane between Watt’s wide edge set and Ogunjobi sealed on a double team inside, and able to get to the edge with Jack blocked, chasing to make the tackle out of bounds but after he got down the sideline for an explosive 22 yarder, discouraging chunk runs right away.

You guessed it, another run on first down where Highsmith set the edge and Alualu was a bit late allowing was able to tackle the gain of six, with the former making the tackle and noted Heyward double teamed and pushed back along with Bush blocked out on the combo, allowing Allgeier to get six yards. On second and four from the red zone, Adams was dinged for a defensive holding penalty, and the situational penalties now an issue on the defensive side of the ball, allowing the first down. First and ten, and Patterson’s carry goes for five yards where Adams and Jack combined for the tackle. Ground game again on first down, back to Patterson who cut inside due to Wormley, edge rusher Malik Reed, and Edmunds closed off the outside, then he cut back getting inside blocks on Jack and Heyward with the former combining for the tackle with Adams on the five-yard gain. On second and five, Mariota play action the rolls right and finds tight end MeCole Pruitt who leaked out on the short route with separation and YAC for the seven-yard touchdown. Lead now six.

At 14:48 in the fourth quarter and the same score, Allgeier got the first down carry for four yards behind two pulling lineman and Heyward pushed back but combining with Adams to make the tackle. On second and six, Mariota play actions and finds London open on the comeback getting separation from Wallace, making the catch along with a bit of YAC where he tackled the gain of 11. First down and Patterson got the call in the run game once again, where Ogunjobi was turned/pushed back creating the beginnings of a hole and good play by Watt to get off the block and tackle the four-yard gain. On second and six, Mariota called his own number this time with Watt working inside off the read-option to tackle the running back, cuing Mariota to keep once again, and Jack makes a good play getting through London’s block to make the tackle for only four yards. Third and a short one now, and it’s a traditional option that was pitched to the running back for Sutton worked off his block on the outside along with Fitzpatrick combining for the tackle, but a five-yard run and conversion.

Continuing on first and ten, Allgeier got the carry and was able to get six yards with Watt setting the edge again, but Alualu pancaked to the ground along with Edmunds blocked in front, and Adams/Wallace combining to tackle the six-yard gain. On second and four, Allgeier carries once again, this one for only one yard where Watt and Jack combine for the stop. Third and three now, and no wavering from the Falcons as they run the ball from the diamond formation again, stopped just short by Spillane and Heyward for only two yards. Four down territory, and who else but Allgeier on his fifth straight run on fourth and one, this one a toss to pick up just enough for the fourth down conversion, on the two-yard gain where Watt barely tripped him up pursuing from the backside of the run and making the shoestring tackle.

Now it’s Patterson back on the field, getting the carry and Alualu pancaked to the ground right away along with Adams and Highsmith cut blocked right away for a six-yard gain where Fitzpatrick flew in to make the tackle. On second and four, Patterson got three yards this time with a great play by Reed to shed the block and get the tackle forcing third and one. Mariota goes play action here, very effective and then targets the tight end on the out route for the drive extending catch and gain of 15 against Edmunds in coverage, allowing the and a fresh set of downs in the red zone.

On first and goal, Patterson strolled into the end zone but an Atlanta penalty for holding negates the play and sets up first and goal from the 20. Huntley gets the carry here, rushing to the right and great run stop of only two yards by Heyward. On second and goal, Atlanta’s offense had similar issues her with red zone penalties, the second in three plays on a false start setting up second and goal from the 22-yard line this time. Mariota is able to connect with London despite the blitz here to get a big chunk back on the gain of 12, with London making the catch on the comeback on Sutton, but great job putting him in the spin cycle and tackling the big bodied receiver in the open field. Huge third and goal now, and Mariota wants London again, who ran a vertical route to the end zone in the middle of trips receivers to that side, and Maulet stuck with him in coverage on the end zone target falling incomplete. Huge stop on third to limit them to a field goal, Steelers lead cut to three for another close game in crunch time.

The defense returned one last time with 42 seconds left and a three-point lead, needing to hold the Falcons to hang on to the lead they enjoyed all game. On first down Mariota’s drops back, and Heyward provided a huge push, walking the guard back and making contact on the wobbly throw to London, and Fitzpatrick comes up huge with an excellent and timely interception, taking it out of bounds to secure the win! What a great end for the defense and special teams to secure the victory!

Let’s look at special teams:

PFF’s highest graded special teamer is deservingly kicker Matthew Wright (73.2), making all four of his field goals and keeping the ball away from a record holding kick returner. No other player has a +70 grade, but Connor Heyward just barely missed the mark (69.9) including a tackle. Derek Watt and Snell were also graded well out of the core special teamers with the latter in on a tackle. Core special teamer Marcus Allen was one of the below 50 grades this week (48.7), blocked to the ground on one kickoff but enjoyed an impressive tackle from him later in the game. The lowest graded special teamer this week was Tre Norwood (48.4).

Wright was called upon on the opening drive, with another doink on his first opportunity at 7:33 from 46-yards out but luckily gets the bounce and is good for the early three-point lead. Loved the strategy to kick away from the elite returner in Patterson, fielded at the 11-yard line and returned for ten yards where he was tackled by Derek Watt. Sims got his first punt return opportunity at 4:10 in the first quarter, signaling for the fair catch at the 14-yard line but muffs the catch, thankfully able to recover it on the near costly mistake. Wright capped the offenses second drive with another make from 46 yards, a much cleaner effort to go up six. Wright sent the following kickoff away from Patterson again, this one with good distance as well to the one-yard line, finding a bit of space with Marcus Allen blocked to the ground, then Benny Snell able to tackle him low along with Connor Heyward (though not credited officially) hit him high on the 25-yard return. Wright made his third field goal from 48 yards out, giving Pittsburgh a ten-point lead with 1:29 left in the second quarter. The following kickoff went toward Patterson, but thankfully chose to let it go in the end zone for the touchback. Sims got a punt return opportunity with 38 seconds left in the first half, fielding it cleanly this time but only a one-yard return with Edmunds, Olszewski, Pierre, and Maulet allowing both gunners to come free and make the tackle and corral the short return.

Wright sent the second half kickoff away from Patterson to the six-yard line, and great job by Marcus Allen to elude the blocker for the solid tackle at the 26-yard line. Sims got another punt return opportunity, but his rough outing continued with 12:28 in the third quarter, traveling to the 10-yard line where he fair caught the returnable punt. Wright connected again on his fourth field goal at 4:50 in the third quarter, this one from 33 yards out and extend the lead to 13. Patterson let the following returnable kickoff bounce from the front of the end zone for the touchback, thankfully still a non-factor for the previously struggling unit. Pressley Harvin punted for the first time with 14:54 in the fourth quarter, a 47-yard attempt traveling to the 26-yard line where it was fair caught thanks to Miles Boykin getting downfield in his welcomed return to action. Harvin came on to punt one last time with 53 seconds left in the game, a fantastic 38 yarder that bounced perfectly for Boykin to down it at the two-yard line, a huge play to pin them and make their short-lived comeback opportunity very difficult. That’s the understatement of the year, with the very next play picked off by the defense for the victory!


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